Blowing Water

Hong Kong educators have forgotten that schooling should be fun

Luisa Tam says a viral video of US teacher shaking students’ hands before class illustrates that good education should not just focus on academic attainment

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 February, 2018, 9:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 February, 2018, 9:11pm

I came across a very inspiring video on Facebook recently in which a teacher in a US public school was seen starting her class in the morning by exchanging elaborate handshakes with her young students, which had been personalised to each and every one of them. It wasn’t difficult to see that they were so excited to shake their teacher’s hand as they queued outside the classroom awaiting their turn.

I was totally overwhelmed and inspired by this, but sadly this is something I have rarely seen in our own education system. In Hong Kong, our educators seem to have forgotten that schools should be fun places to inspire and excite students to learn by providing a warm and hospitable environment to nurture their love for learning.

A good education should not just focus on academic attainment but also embrace genuine learning, creative teaching and encourage the overall development of the child.

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This Facebook video, which has gone viral with more than 49 million views, also illustrates how important it is for teachers to build a genuine connection with students. Although the Baptist University debacle has died down for now, a short clip is a critical lens that shows what we seriously lack in Hong Kong’s education; our educators’ inability to connect, collaborate, engage with students or instil creativity in them. They are also guilty of turning schools into boring and lifeless education factories driven merely by a culture of homogeneity.

I dare say that many of our local educators still cling to the conformist concept that learning should not be fun because the process of acquiring anything worthwhile cannot and should not be fun at all, let alone enjoyable.

In Hong Kong, schools have turned into academic torture dens and signs of academic burnout are becoming increasingly common in younger primary students, which could trigger low self-efficacy and low self-esteem. I have witnessed some of these problems in the young children of some of my friends.

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If you ask any child who attends a local school in Hong Kong, most of them will tell you it’s hard to differentiate between schools and prisons, as children feel trapped and unfulfilled in their classrooms, day in and day out.

Unlike Western education, local schools in Hong Kong are never meant to be fun and nor do they pretend to be. Most of our schools advocate excruciatingly long hours of homework, constant drills and rote-learning but never meaningful learning. Surviving school in Hong Kong is real hard work and local students recognise that this is what to expect throughout the course of their schooling; they have become blasé to this sad fact of life and so they choose to serve their time without complaint.

Whenever I hear the Hong Kong government churn out the buzzwords “creative economy”, I can’t help but feel that we are actually stuck in an “uncreative economy”. Moreover, if we are to build a creative economy, like what the government has been emphasising, we would need to have more creative industries. And to reach that goal, it would mean having to nurture creative young people to assure our future survival in an increasingly creative and competitive world.

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But the irony is the government keeps on discouraging creativity and innovation, which turns our young people into near lifeless robots who only know how to push themselves to earn the best exam results.

The video clip of the cheerful US public school stands in stark contrast to the recent controversy at Baptist University, in which a group of students barged into a school office to push for the scrapping of the school’s apparently unreasonably difficult Mandarin assessment. It was obvious in the video that the American teacher and her students shared a mutual respect, but this was not the case with the Baptist University students, who chose to blame their educators and the establishment for their own shortcomings.

The challenge that Hong Kong’s educators face is that as the world of education has evolved to keep pace with a creative economy, they are still bogged down by the tremendous weight of the stifling rigidity of traditional education that neither meets today’s needs nor tomorrow’s challenges.

Our Hong Kong teachers might not be as agile as the American teacher in creating rhythmic or synchronised handshakes with their students, but a good first step is to treat students like individuals and recognise their differences in learning and motivation. Teachers and students need to build a positive relationship to create a learning experience that is welcoming and a setting that’s inviting. Like running a good business, there has to be trust and respect and a collaborative culture in which students can acquire a truly genuine education for tomorrow. That’s the future of learning and without this, we are doomed.